The Debate Between Maximalists and Minimalists

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Those who are familiar with the terms maximalists and minimalists know that the issue in question is the historical reliability of the Bible. Matthew Kalman has written an excellent article that was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education in which he discusses the controversy that has arisen because of Yosef Garfinkel’s discovery at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

At issue is whether David and Solomon ever existed and whether there is any historical foundation for the Bible’s statement that they ruled over a united monarchy in Jerusalem.

Kalman’s article should be read by any person who is interested in archaeology or the historicity of the Biblical narrative.  In addition, anyone who has heard or read about the Elah Valley, Yosef Garfinkel, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Israel Finkelstein, and Simcha Jacobovici and his many documentaries should read this article.

Let me give three brief quotations from the article:

The Maximalist View:

For the past 20 years, archaeologists have been locked in a battle over the very existence of David and his son Solomon, the extent of their influence, and when they reigned, if at all. Though the events under discussion occurred some 3,000 years ago, the debate has stirred strong emotions fueled by modern-day politics, academic rivalry, and a very 21st-century recruitment of modern media techniques that have divided the dry and dusty world of archaeological research into warring digital camps.

The David debate first spiked in the 1990s, when Finkelstein challenged the traditional idea of “a great United Monarchy of Israel, established in the course of the military exploits of King David and stabilized in the days of his son Solomon, who ruled over a glamorous, rich, and prosperous state.”

The Minimalist View:

Finkelstein became the poster child for an opposing camp of Minimalists, concentrated at Tel Aviv University. Advocates of the “Low Chronology,” they say that David and Solomon were mythical figures who perhaps ruled a small nomadic tribe confined to the Jerusalem-Hebron area. They date the finds at Megiddo to the ninth century BC, say they have no connection to Solomon, and argue that the biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judea emerged as political powers at least a century after David was supposed to have lived.

Garfinkel’s Argument:

Garfinkel’s latest finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa may win the argument—unless the rival camp can provide an alternative explanation for the newly unearthed cultic objects. The 10th-century date has been confirmed by carbon-14 tests. He says the absence of pig bones, the lack of human or animal forms in the religious vessels, and the Hebraic inscription set Khirbet Qeiyafa apart from nearby Canaanite or Philistine sites of the same period.

“Here we are in the Elah Valley. According to the radiocarbon dating we are in the time of David, and we have two gates, so we match very nicely the biblical description of Shaarayim,” says Garfinkel. “The Minimalists can’t bear this because it destroys the idea that the Bible has no historical memories from the 10th century. But this site shows you that some historical memories are embedded in the biblical tradition.”

If you want to know more about the minimalist/maximalist controversy, read the article here.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

NOTE: Did you like this post? Do you think other people would like to read this post? Be sure to share this post on Facebook and share a link on Twitter or Tumblr so that others may enjoy reading it too!

I would love to hear from you! Let me know what you thought of this post by leaving a comment below. Be sure to like my page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Tumblr, Facebook, and subscribe to my blog to receive each post by email.

If you are looking for other series of studies on the Old Testament, visit the Archive section and you will find many studies that deal with a variety of Old Testament topics.

This entry was posted in Archaeology, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Maximalists, Minimalists, Simcha Jacobovici and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Debate Between Maximalists and Minimalists

  1. Daniel says:

    Thanks for drawing attention to this. The article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed was well written and pretty even-handed. The minimalists are pretty vocal of what they think of the Bible. The only ones I see who could be really called maximalists are on TBN or those cited in the article like Jacobovici on the Discovery Channel. It was good to read the responses by West, Goodacre, Cargill, et al. about Jacobovici and Tabor’s recent popularized work.

    I read Biblical Archaeological Review quite a bit and they offer archaeology that is interesting to those of us concerned with the Bible. It is too bad they do not have more on internet sites that deal with biblical lands and archaeology.

    Though this is outside your area of specific expertise, do you have any knowledge of any archaeological work carried on in Saudi Arabia along the Gulf of Aqaba?


    • Claude Mariottini says:


      The problem with the minimalists is that they begin with the presupposition that there is no history in the Bible until the days of Ahab. This is already the 9th century B.C. This is too late in biblical history. Such approach leaves the early history of Israel in limbo. I am glad to know you liked the article.

      I often write on issues related to archeology, but unfortunately I do not know much about Saudi Arabian archaeology.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Claude Mariottini


  2. Pingback: Is truth the first casualty in the atheist-christian wars?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.